Post my masters in business studies, I started working with one of India’s leading companies and the demands of the 8 to 7 job were such that I never got time to cook
something anything. Before marriage, my mom was keen that I focus on my studies and though she had taught me the basics of cooking, it was post marriage that I started cooking complete meals.
Having a hectic routine meant that most of the time I was not around to contribute to the cooking or any other aspect of a party or get-togethers; it was mostly my, then 45 years old, mom-in-law who used to take care of most things.
It was actually when my husband got posted abroad (to an African nation), that I was able to comprehend what it meant to organize a party; since partying and get-togethers were the major source of entertainment for most Indian expatriates and a way to meet new people and make new friends.
Initially when I used to throw a party, I used to have plenty of left-overs and it was quite exasperating. Through my experiences, as a host and as a guest, I realized the importance of planning well, not just the décor but also the menu and the other nitty gritty stuff.
Parties are meant to be fun and not a source of stress. Hosting a party can be fun and stress free if you plan the menu, theme (in case you plan a theme party), decoration (including lighting and laying the table), music (if any) and cutlery to be used in advance.
Here is how I used to plan my way:
Guest list – Before you start planning all the above said things, the first and the foremost thing that needs to be addressed is confirmation of acceptance of your invite i.e. whether or not they will be making an attendance at your party. If the answer to the previous question is yes, then, whether or not they will stay for the dinner. There could be a possibility that may be attending another party the same day besides yours. This will help you figure out how much starters, food and drinks you will need for your party.
Planning the menu – When you are planning the menu, make sure that you are not being repetitive with the ingredients, for instance, baked chicken for the main course along with a chicken salad is a complete no-no. Same applies to the starters. Each dish should have different flavours, combinations, textures, dressings, etc.
If the guest list is long and you do not have a helping hand you can order a few things from outside (if your budget allows) and prepare the rest yourself. This way you will not end up being tired in the kitchen and instead you can enjoy the evening along with your guests.
Switch over to the buffet style of serving food if you have invited a large group of guests.
If you intend to serve bread/ crackers or bread sticks, you can prepare them in advance and serve them on a platter. OR You can keep them along with cheese slices, cheese spread, chutneys, on a platter so that the guests can make their own combinations.
You can serve mini sandwiches which can be prepared in advance. Make the sandwiches and wrap them in cling wraps.
Have enough stock of dips and chutneys.
If you have invited younger kids along with the parents to the party, ensure that you have finger food for the kids that does not require dips or chutneys. This will create lesser mess!!
Shopping – Go prepared with a shopping list so that you do not miss out any ingredient that you may need for your party. You definitely won’t want to scurry around for that one ingredient. Finish all the shopping a day or two ahead of the ‘D’ day.
Use seasonal ingredients since this will help you keep your budget at a reasonable level.
Cutlery – Ensure that you have sufficient cutlery, glassware, napkins, etc. In case you do not have it, request your friend to loan you some.
To cut down on washing of dishes post the party, try using tissue papers to serve the starters (but ensure that you keep a bowl or a utensil where the guests can keep the discarded tissue papers or skewers, if you are serving food on skewers).
Keep a tray cover on the tray so that the bowls and glasses do not slide, on the tray, when being served.
Keep napkins/tissues at a convenient place where everyone (even children) can access them.
Now the theme – Choosing a theme which does not leave your guests in doldrums or where they need to show up in wild wacky dresses!! You can keep a discreet theme such as a particular colour that you can also include in your décor and drinks/ food (if possible) or the theme can be, use of an accessory.
Food – Keep the starters small and a light affair if you have planned a big spread for the main course. And if the main course spread is small, then of course, do the vice versa.
Make sure that you add a few vegetarian dishes to your menu to please your vegetarian guests besides offering variety to your other guests.
Drinks – If liquor is being served, ensure you know in advance what each of your guest prefers (if that is not possible, go by the general trend - youngsters will generally opt for vodka or rum or may be even beer and the seniors for scotch - though this is not a hard and fast rule) so that you have enough stock and there are no embarrassing moments!
Ice is something which you should NEVER run out of stock...so prepare ice a day before, store it in zip lock bags and throw them in the freezer compartment. Once done, freeze more water to make more ice. This way you will have more stock to fall back on.
For non-drinkers, have juice, soft drinks or mock tails. In fact keep a separate stock for even those who might add juice or soft drinks to their vodka and rum. Keep juice in a pitcher so that your guests can help themselves.
But, don’t forget to let me know if these tips helped you!!! In case you have more tips to offer, please feel free to write in to me so that others can benefit from them too!!